In Islam, the Prophet Muhammad is known as al-Insān al-Kāmil (the perfect human) and uswa hasana (an excellent model of conduct).
Many Muslims and non-Muslims alike, often attempt to excuse away Muhammad's immoral behavior using moral relativism and/or a "tu quoque" defense against the actions of other religious figures from various faiths. They claim he was a “product of his time” and that he should not be judged by modern standards, but what they fail to mention is that this particular Islamic doctrine, the belief that Muhammad is the uswa hasana, leaves those defenses redundant.
Muhammad repeatedly told his followers to follow his Sunnah (example) and in the Qur'an we see that Allah even asserts his morality as being “sublime” (Quran 68:4), therefore Muhammad cannot be seen as simply a product of his time. To do so, would mean to also concede the fact that the Qur'an is outdated and not relevant to the modern world. From an Islamic perspective, this is unthinkable. The Qur'an is beyond the constraints of time. It is not simply 'inspired' but the very words of Allah, uttered through the lips of his final messenger. Hence, Muhammad's actions are (and always will be) morally acceptable to the Muslim.
Text from the Qur'an
Transliteration: Laqad kana lakum fee rasooli Allahi oswatun hasanatun liman kana yarjoo Allaha waalyawma al-akhira wathakara Allaha katheeranLiteral: (It) had been for you in God's messenger a good example/model to who was hoping/expecting God, and the Day the Last/Resurrection Day, and remembered/mentioned God much.
Transliteration: Qad kanat lakum oswatun hasanatun fee ibraheema waallatheena maAAahu ith qaloo liqawmihim inna buraao minkum wamimma taAAbudoona min dooni Allahi kafarna bikum wabada baynana wabaynakumu alAAadawatu waalbaghdao abadan hatta tu/minoo biAllahi wahdahu illa qawla ibraheema li-abeehi laastaghfiranna laka wama amliku laka mina Allahi min shay-in rabbana AAalayka tawakkalna wa-ilayka anabna wa-ilayka almaseeruLiteral: A good example/model (to follow) had been for you in Abraham and those with him, when they said to their nation: "We are innocent/separating from you, and from what you worship from other than God, we disbelieved with you, and the animosity and the intense hatred appeared between us and between you (for) ever (E), until you believe with (in) God alone." Except Abraham's word/statement to his father: "I will ask for forgiveness for you, and I do not own/possess for you from God from a thing, our Lord, on You we relied depended (on) , and to You we returned/repented , and to You (is) the end/destination."
Transliteration: Laqad kana lakum feehim oswatun hasanatun liman kana yarjoo Allaha waalyawma al-akhira waman yatawalla fa-inna Allaha huwa alghanniyyu alhameeduLiteral: A good example/model (to follow) had been for you in them, to who was hoping/expecting God, and the Day the Last/Resurrection Day; and who turns away, so then God, He is the rich, the praiseworthy/commendable.
See related: Islamic Theology/Hadith and Sunnah
Alif-Siin-Waw: to imitate any one. uswah - model, imitation, relief, consolation, pattern, example worthy of imitation.uswah n.f. Quran 33:21, Quran 60:4, Quran 60:6
Effect on Islamic Morality
As we have already seen, Muslims today are encouraged to emulate Muhammad and his 7th century actions as closely as they can, as a form of devotion to Allah. Due to this, no other historical figures actions have effected the modern world more potently or negatively than those of Muhammad. Lets take a look at a few of the example he has set for his pious followers to emulate:
Muhammad was a pedophile:
The effect: Religiously sanctioned pedophilia.
Muhammad was a mass-murdering child-killer:
The effect: Religiously sanctioned slaughter of innocents (including children) whose only crime were being a non-Muslim.
Muhammad was a Slaver:
The effect: Religiously sanctioned Slavery which continues to this day.
Muhammad was a homophobe:
The effect: Religiously sanctioned executions of homosexuals.
Muhammad was a wife-beater:
The effect: Religiously sanctioned violence against women.
Of course, most “moderates” (as witnessed by their overwhelming silence and indifference) cannot speak-out against such things. To do so, would be to condemn Muhammad and (in-turn) their very faith. Also, as the “Prophet of peace” himself had said: “A man will not be asked as to why he beat his wife.”
Responses to Apologetics
- "Muhammad is rebuked in surah 80, so Muslims don't believe he is perfect!"
True. Muhammad is rebuked in the Qur'an for turning away from a blind man, but this only highlights an ignorance of Islamic theology and beliefs. In Islam, prophets are masoom (infallible/sinless). They may err (Zallat "slip"), but this is not the same as committing a sin. Sin in Islam is doing something against Allah's prescribed teachings. Muhammad did not sin because the incident involving the blind man occurred prior to Allah admonishing him. An act becomes a sin only after Allah ordains it as such. For example, Muhammad and the early Muslims drank alcohol, but this allowance was abrogated by a later Qur'anic revelation.
- "The Qur'an also says Abraham is a good example to follow, but there are no hadith collections for him!"
True. But if all prophets are a good model to follow, then by following Muhammad's sunnah, you're essentially following the sunnah of the prophets who preceded him. If there were Hadith collections for other prophets then they would be rendered obsolete.
- Muhammad's character, Islamic law and theology - Encyclopædia Britannica Online
- Some Selected Verses From The Holy Qur'an On OUR BELOVED PROPHET MUHAMMAD
- The Last Prophet - Muhammad: Seal of the Prophets
- Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, Zad al-Ma'ad, Part 1, pp. 114-116
- Narrated Umar ibn al-Khattab - Sunan Abu Dawud 11:2142